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Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics

Appendix 15

Juvenile Court Statistics

Methodology, definitions of terms, and offenses within categories

This information was excerpted from Melissa Sickmund et al., Juvenile Court Statistics 1995, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1998), pp. 1-3, 51-61; and Howard Snyder et al., "Easy Access to Juvenile Court Statistics: 1986-1995," Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1997. (Machine-readable data file.) Non-substantive editorial adaptations have been made.


These data are national estimates of juvenile delinquency cases handled in 1995 by U.S. courts with juvenile jurisdiction. The estimates are derived from data provided to the National Center for Juvenile Justices' National Juvenile Court Data Archive, by State and county agencies responsible for collecting and/or disseminating information on the processing of youth in juvenile courts.

Such courts may also handle other matters, including status offenses, i.e., behaviors that are considered an offense only when committed by a juvenile (e.g., running away from home), traffic violations, child support, adoption, and child abuse and neglect. However, the data presented in this edition of SOURCEBOOK focus on the courts' handling of juveniles charged with criminal law violations. These data are not the result of a uniform data collection effort. They are not derived from a complete census of juvenile courts or obtained from a probability sample of courts. These national estimates are developed using compatible information from courts that are able to provide data to the Archive.

The Archive collects data in two forms: court-level aggregate statistics and detailed case-level data. Court-level aggregate statistics are either abstracted from the annual reports of State and local courts or are contributed directly to the Archive. These data typically are counts of the delinquency and status offense cases handled by courts in a defined time period (calendar or fiscal year). Case-level data are usually generated by the automated client-tracking systems or case-reporting systems managed by juvenile courts or other juvenile justice agencies. These systems provide detailed data on the characteristics of each delinquency and status offense case handled by courts.

The structure and content of each data set is examined in order to design an automated restructuring procedure that will transform each jurisdiction's data into a common case-level format. The aggregation of these standardized case-level data files constitutes the national case-level data base. The compiled data from jurisdictions that contribute only court-level statistics constitutes the national court-level data base. Together, these two multi-jurisdictional data bases are used to generate national estimates of delinquency and status offense cases. Although juvenile courts with jurisdiction over more than 95% of the U.S. juvenile population contribute either case-level data or court-level aggregate statistics to the Archive, not all of this information can be used to generate the national estimates. To be used, the data must be in a compatible unit of count (i.e., case disposed), the data source must demonstrate a pattern of consistent reporting over time (at least 2 years), and the data file contributed must represent a complete count of cases disposed in a jurisdiction during a given year.

In 1995, case-level data describing 876,173 delinquency cases handled by 1,323 jurisdictions in 28 States met the criteria for inclusion in the development of national estimates. Compatible data were available from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia. These courts had jurisdiction over 53% of the Nation's juvenile population in 1995.

Compatible court-level aggregate statistics on an additional 176,823 delinquency cases from 511 jurisdictions were reported from the District of Columbia, California, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Montana, Texas, and Vermont.

In all, compatible case-level data and court-level statistics on delinquency cases were received from 1,775 jurisdictions containing 67% of the Nation's juvenile population in 1995.

A multivariate weighting procedure is employed that adjusts for a number of factors related to juvenile court caseloads--i.e., the court's jurisdictional responsibilities (upper age); the size and demographic composition of the community; the age, sex, and race profile of the youth involved in juvenile court cases; and the offenses charged against the youth. The basic assumption underlying the estimation procedure is that similar legal and demographic factors shape the volume and characteristics of cases in reporting and nonreporting counties of comparable size and features.

The unit of count is a case disposed by a court with juvenile jurisdiction. A case represents a youth processed by a juvenile court on a new referral regardless of the number of charges contained in that referral. A youth charged with four burglaries in a single referral represents a single case, whereas a youth referred to court intake for three burglaries and referred again the following week on another burglary charge represents two cases, even if the court eventually merges the two referrals for efficient processing.

The offense coded was the most serious offense for which the youth was referred to court. Attempts to commit an offense were included under that offense category except attempted murder, which was included in the aggravated assault category.

The term disposed means that a definite action has been taken or that a plan of treatment has been selected or initiated. It does not necessarily mean that the case is closed or terminated in the sense that all contact with the youth has ceased.

Definitions of terms

Adjudicated--Judicially determined (judged) to be a delinquent.

Delinquent act/offense--An act committed by a juvenile for which an adult could be prosecuted in a criminal court, but when committed by a juvenile is within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court.

Detention--The placement of a youth in a restrictive facility between referral to court intake and case disposition.

Juvenile--Youth at or below the upper age of juvenile court jurisdiction. See Upper age of jurisdiction and Youth population at risk.

Nonpetitioned cases--Informally handled cases that duly authorized court personnel screen for adjustment without the filing of a formal petition. Such personnel include judges, referees, probation officers, other officers of the court, and/or an agency statutorily designated to conduct petition screening for the juvenile court.

Petitioned cases--Formally handled cases that appear on the official court calendar in response to the filing of a petition or other legal instrument requesting the court to adjudicate the youth delinquent or to waive (transfer) the youth to criminal court for processing as an adult.

Placement out-of-home--Cases in which youth were placed in a residential facility for delinquents, or were otherwise removed from their homes and placed elsewhere.

Probation--Cases in which youth were placed on informal/voluntary or formal/court-ordered probation or supervision.

Race--The race of the youth referred as determined by the youth or by court personnel.

Transfer/waiver--Cases that were waived or transferred to criminal court as the result of a waiver or transfer hearing in juvenile court. Cases are included in this category only if the transfer resulted from judicial actions alone. Some cases can be transferred to criminal court through the actions of prosecutors. However, these data report judicial waivers only. Excluded are cases that were transferred to criminal court under concurrent jurisdiction provisions.

Upper age of jurisdiction--The oldest age at which a juvenile court has original jurisdiction over an individual for law-violating behavior. For the time period covered by these data in 3 States (Connecticut, New York, and North Carolina) the upper age of jurisdiction was 15, in 8 States (Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, South Carolina, and Texas) the upper age of jurisdiction was 16, and in the remaining 39 States and the District of Columbia the upper age of jurisdiction was 17. It must be noted that within most States there are exceptions to the age criteria that place or permit youth at or below the State's upper age of jurisdiction to be under the original jurisdiction of the adult criminal court. For example, in most States if a youth of a certain age is charged with one of a defined list of what are commonly labeled "excluded offenses," the case must originate in the adult criminal court. In addition, in a number of States, the district attorney is given the discretion of filing certain cases either in the juvenile or in the criminal court. Therefore, while the upper age of jurisdiction is commonly recognized in all States, there are numerous exceptions to this age criterion.

Youth population at risk--For delinquency and status offense matters this is the number of children from age 10 through the upper age of jurisdiction. In all States the upper age of jurisdiction is defined by statute. In most States individuals are considered adults when they reach their 18th birthday. Therefore, for these States, the delinquency and status offense youth population at risk would equal the number of children who are 10 through 17 years of age living within the geographical area serviced by the court.

Offenses within categories

Crimes against persons--This category includes criminal homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, simple assault, and other person offenses as defined below.

Crimes against property--This category includes burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, arson, vandalism, stolen property offenses, trespassing, and other property offenses as defined below.

Drug law violations--Unlawful sale, purchase, distribution, manufacture, cultivation, transport, possession, or use of a controlled or prohibited substance or drug, or drug paraphernalia, or attempts to commit these acts. Sniffing of glue, paint, gasoline, and other inhalants also are included; therefore, the term is broader than the UCR category drug abuse violations.

Offenses against public order--This category includes weapons offenses, non-violent sex offenses, non-status liquor law violations, disorderly conduct, obstruction of justice, and other offenses against public order as defined below.

Disorderly conduct--Unlawful interruption of the peace, quiet, or order of a community, including offenses such as disturbing the peace, vagrancy, loitering, unlawful assembly, and riot.

Obstruction of justice--This category includes intentionally obstructing court or law enforcement efforts in the administration of justice, acting in a way calculated to lessen the authority or dignity of the court, failing to obey the lawful order of a court, and violations of probation or parole other than technical violations, which do not consist of the commission of a crime or are not prosecuted as such. It includes contempt, perjury, obstructing justice, bribing witnesses, failure to report a crime, and nonviolent resisting arrest.

Other offenses against public order--This category includes other offenses against government administration or regulation, e.g., escape from confinement, bribery, gambling, fish and game violations, hitchhiking, health violations, false fire alarms, and immigration violations.

Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics